When the season began, the Wizards were so desperate for a player representative for the union that veteran Kirk Hinrich reluctantly assumed -- okay, he was practically forced into -- the responsibility. But when the season ended, they had Maurice Evans, a vice president of the National Basketball Players’ Association who will represent them in negotiations for what is expected to be a critical collective bargaining agreement.
Evans, who joined the Wizards in a trade deadline deal with Atlanta involving Hinrich, said two weeks ago that his primary objective this offseason is making sure that owners and players can reach a deal, “so we can have a season next year. I’m very optimistic.”
He conceded that a lockout would occur, but only because he doesn’t expect an agreement to be reached before the current CBA expires on July 1. The sides are extremely far apart, though the owners are expected to deliver a new proposal to the players’ union, possibly by Friday.
The NBA hasn’t had a work stoppage since 1998, when the season was reduced to just 50 games. But NBA Commissioner David Stern has repeatedly said that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed, with 22 out of the league’s 30 teams losing money, amd with collective losses of $300 million last season. Owners are pushing for a hard cap and an increase in basketball-related income, with players currently guaranteed to get 57 percent. Evans said players might be willing to relent on BRI, but do not intend to budge on a hard cap.
“In my opinion, the current deal we have now is actually working,” Evans said. “So if we can just work from there and try and figure out something that works for everybody… Again, we want to bargain with them. We don’t want to throw darts and say who is right and who is wrong. We just want to get a deal. There has to be some model that says this is how we do business and it’s consistent from here out. Tweak this, and work from there. Honestly, I don’t think there is anything more we can give and a hard cap is definitely not going to happen.”
The owners are also expected to push for reducing the length of guaranteed contracts, and limiting the guarantees on some deals, which Evans felt is unnecessary. “I don’t think there is nowhere to go from here,” he said. “Everything has gone down. We can’t continue to diminish the years of contracts. GMs and owners don’t have to sign players for those allotted number of years. We don’t need to self-govern them. Doesn’t make any sense.”
Evans is paying close attention to the NFL labor situation, which was made more complicated when its players decertified the union and filed an antitrust lawsuit the day before team owners locked them out. This week, a federal judge in Minnesota ruled the league must lift its lockout, but the NFL is seeking a stay at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The NFL players’ victory has raised optimism that something could get done without the NBA destroying the momentum of an exciting regular season and playoffs by having a prolonged lockout.
But until the NFL situation is completely resolved, Evans said in a text message this week, he would only classify it as a “step in the right direction.”
“It was a drastic measure,” Evans said at Verizon Center recently about the NFL players decertifying the union. “They took a chance. That means they are serious about trying to have football. We’re serious about trying to have basketball. So hopefully, we won’t have to go through those measures and we can sit down and hammer out a deal.”
Evans said the NBA players couldn’t surrender the progress of previous generations with the next collective bargaining agreement. The union is ready for a lengthy fight. “We’re prepared and we’ve prepared for this for a long while. So are the owners. I hope no one has been preparing with malicious intent, to try and prove a point and be spiteful. We’re just trying to get a deal. We want basketball and we want football and we want all sports to be, because it’s a part of our culture and it’s a part of the values.”